Entertainment

How The Daughter Of ‘The Muppets’ Creator Produced ‘Yo Soy Taíno’ A Film About Boricua Strength

The devastation that Hurricane Maria left in her wake in Puerto Rico continues to affect the lives of the residents, many still recovering from the lack of access to basic necessities. The death toll was estimated to be more than 4,000 and the island remains vulnerable since the 2017 ravaging but the lack of assistance from the U.S. led director and animator Alba García to work on a project to elevate Puerto Ricans and Taíno culture.

She’d been approached about the project by Heather Henson, owner of IBEX Puppetry which showcases the art of puppetry, and daughter of famed puppeteer and creator of The Muppets, Jim Henson. 

After Hurricane Maria and seeing the devastation while visiting her family, she knew she needed to take the project on and Yo Soy Taino (I Am Taíno or Dak’toká Taíno) was born.

“I was devastated for my Puerto Rico, the land where I grew up,  and the land I love Suddenly, it dawned on me that Puerto Rico wasn’t getting enough attention, that food and other necessities weren’t arriving to remote areas. I knew then that something was very wrong. I saw that most of the help we weren’t getting was due greatly because of our colonial status and old laws that keep Puerto Rico subdued,” García wrote on the Indiegogo page for the project. 

Though her previous experience is primarily in stop-motion animation, Garcia’s collaboration with Henson meant she’d be able to represent her culture in a new format through puppets.  

The 13-minute informative short film premiered on HBO Latino July 1 and features dialogue in both Spanish and Taíno. It centers around an exchange between Abuela Yaya, a Puerto Rican grandma voiced by Amneris Morales, and her 10-year-old granddaughter Marabelí, voiced by Vianez Morales after Hurricane Maria. 

Their discussion turns into a teaching moment where Abuela Yaya introduces Marabelí to the Taíno language and explains the multiracial heritage of Puerto Ricans which is a mix of Taíno, Spanish, and African. 

“Our desire is to inspire a revival of the Taíno culture and restoration of our Taíno Borikenaíki ancestral language as our ultimate goal,” García wrote. 

To prepare for the film and to ensure authenticity she worked with  Anthropologist Dr. Yarey Melendez, founder of the Naguake schools in Puerto Rico, who currently teaches a restored version of the Taíno language.

Also, Luis Ramos a Taíno Community leader, a Bohike (Taíno Healer) and Activist of Naguake community.

To ease the young girl’s fears after Hurricane Maria, the abuela recounts how their Taíno ancestors survived colonization and the problematic relationship with the U.S., with sentiments strongly in favor of independence. 

Though Puerto Rico is recognized as a U.S. territory, it was an independent nation in 1897 when Spain approved the Constitución Autonómica. But by mid-1898 the U.S. invaded Puerto Rico after declaring war on Spain and it marked the transference of dominion. 

The U.S. failed to properly assist the island after the hurricane, leaving many areas without power for months despite Puerto Rico’s governor’s request for federal assistance.

“Our story needs to be told especially now because our people are dying and some remote areas still don’t have water or power,” she writes. 

“We Boricuas won’t go away. We will rise,” Yaya says in the film. 

Check out the video below!

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Today, Puerto Rico Celebrates Emancipation Day–the Day When the Island Officially Abolished Slavery

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Today, Puerto Rico Celebrates Emancipation Day–the Day When the Island Officially Abolished Slavery

Photo via George W. Davis, Public Domain

Today, March 22nd marks Día de la Abolición de Esclavitud in Puerto Rico–the date that marks the emancipation of slaves in Puerto Rico. In Puerto Rico, enslaved peoples were emancipated in 1873–a full decade after the U.S. officially abolished slavery. But unlike the U.S. mainland, Puerto Rico celebrates today as an official holiday, where many businesses are closed.

The emancipation of Puerto Rican slaves was a very different process than the United States’. For one, the emancipation was gradual and over three years.

When the Spanish government abolished slavery in Puerto Rico 1873, enslaved men and women had to buy their freedom. The price was set by their “owners”. The way the emancipated slaves bought their freedom was through a process that was very similar to sharecropping in the post-war American south. Emancipated slaves farmed, sold goods, and worked in different trades to “buy” their freedom.

In the same Spanish edict that abolished slavery, slaves over the age of 60 were automatically freed. Enslaved children who were 5-years-old and under were also automatically freed.

Today, Black and mixed-race Puerto Ricans of Black descent make up a large part of Puerto Rico’s population.

The legacy of enslaved Black Puerto Ricans is a strong one. Unlike the United States, Puerto Rico doesn’t classify race in such black-and-white terms. Puerto Ricans are taught that everyone is a mixture of three groups of people: white Spanish colonizers, Black African slaves, and the indigenous Taíno population.

African influences on Puerto Rican culture is ubiquitous and is present in Puerto Rican music, cuisine, and even in the way that the island’s language evolved. And although experts estimate that up to 60% of Puerto Ricans have significant African ancestry, almost 76% of Puerto Ricans identified as white only in the latest census poll–a phenomenon that many sociologists have blamed on anti-blackness.

On Puerto Rico’s Día de la Abolición de Esclavitud, many people can’t help but notice that the island celebrates a day of freedom and independence when they are not really free themselves.

As the fight for Puerto Rican decolonization rages on, there is a bit of irony in the fact that Puerto Rico is one of the only American territories that officially celebrates the emancipation of slaves, when Puerto Rico is not emancipated from the United States. Yes, many Black Americans recognize Juneteenth (June 19th) as the official day to celebrate emancipation from slavery, but it is not an official government holiday.

Perhaps, Puerto Rico celebrates this historical day of freedom because they understand how important the freedom and independence is on a different level than mainland Americans do.

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Puerto Rico Lost Its Giant Telescope But Now It Hopes To Build A Giant Space Port

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Puerto Rico Lost Its Giant Telescope But Now It Hopes To Build A Giant Space Port

Puerto Rico’s famed Arecibo telescope collapsed in December after years of neglect and damage from earthquakes and hurricanes. But the island is looking to the future with the hope that the U.S. territory could become a major hub for space exploration as a potential space port.

Puerto Rico seeks to be a hub for international space travel.

Puerto Rico may best be known for its tourist packed beaches and its bankrupt finances, but as the island continues to recover from the economic disasters in the wake of hurricanes and earthquakes, it’s looking to the future.

And to many officials on the island, the future is in space exploration. The Caribbean island has put out a request for information, or RFI, seeking companies interested in turning a sleepy airport at the base of the El Yunque National Rainforest into a space port.

The island’s location between North and South America and close to the Equator gives it “viable trajectories to a large range of desirable low earth orbit launch inclinations,” Puerto Rico’s Port Authority said in a notice posted Friday.

The potential base could be a major boost to the Puerto Rican economy.

The site is currently a small airport that already houses an 11,000 feet runway and offers flights to various points in the territory. But with the existing infrastructure, officials state it could easily be converted into a space port.

If the site does generate interest, it would be a major boost to Puerto Rico’s small but vibrant aerospace sector. Honeywell Aerospace, Pratt & Whitney and Collins Aerospace all have manufacturing plants on the island.

Puerto Rico would also join a growing number of U.S. states and jurisdictions that are vying for pieces of the commercial launch business, which is expected to become a trillion-dollar market over the next decade.

The executive director of the Puerto Rico Ports Authority (APPR), Joel A. Pizá Batiz, believes that “The aerospace industry is one of the economic sectors that is experiencing the most rapid growth. In fact, in the midst of the pandemic it was one of the few sectors that did not receive much impact,” he explained.

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